Innovation and Autonomy Tie DeGrow's New Op-Ed to State of the Union Address

So what does my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow’s brand new op-ed in the Colorado Springs Gazette have to do with President Obama’s State of the Union address last night? Piqued your curiosity at all? Maybe just a tad?

A couple weeks ago I told you about what’s going on in Falcon School District 49 near Colorado Springs, and the beginnings of their creative attempt to restructure the school district. Well, the Falcon board voted to move forward with the innovation plan — a decision Ben lauds and highlights in his Gazette op-ed.

You can find out more about Falcon’s innovation plan by listening to an iVoices podcast with school board member Chris Wright, or by visiting a new page created on the district’s website. A main tenet of the plan is moving greater autonomy from the central administrative office to the schools in the different innovation zones. To get there, the district plans to request Innovation status from the State Board of Education — a step empowered by the creation of Colorado’s 2008 Innovation Schools Act.

But what was the genesis of the groundbreaking piece of legislation? A high-need school with a bold principal (Kristin Waters, now helping to lead DPS superintendent Tom Boasberg’s efforts on innovation and reform) and dedicated teachers seeking freedom from state and local regulations to serve their students more effectively. Yes, I’m talking about the Bruce Randolph School — a 6th-to-12th grade school that President Obama highlighted by name as a success story during last night’s State of the Union address.

In December 2007, back in the Dark Ages before I started blogging, Bruce Randolph’s quest for freedom and autonomy broke as a big story in Denver. One good way to get up to speed is to listen to this iVoices podcast from the archives with Alan Gottlieb, publisher of Education News Colorado. He and Ben DeGrow (who also penned a 2008 op-ed on the topic) discussed among other things the great story of how many groups and individuals came together to send congratulatory floral bouquets to Bruce Randolph School. When angry Denver teachers union officials saw that the Independence Institute was among those sending flowers, they ridiculously accused the fellow flower-sending Public Education and Business Coalition of being “anti-public education.” Ah, memories.

Anyway, in his edu-analysis of the President’s big speech, Eduwonk brings attention to Bruce Randolph and asks:

Overlooked story angle? A black swan? How many schools in CO have subsequently done this?

To answer briefly, the first two schools to follow Bruce Randolph in achieving greater autonomy by gaining approval under the Innovation Schools Act were Manual High School and Montclair Elementary in March 2009. Five months later came the Cole Arts and Science Academy. Another Denver school, Valdez Elementary, followed suit in June 2010. Two months later Wasson High School in Colorado Springs spread the trend outside the state’s largest city. And that doesn’t include the far northeast Denver zone of innovation, which is a whole other story. (So is the district-innovation schools conflict over implementation that was still being hashed out as recently as last fall.)

Now, to come full circle, the Falcon School District has innovation status in its sights. But it probably won’t become the first district to achieve the status. Tiny, rural Kit Carson School District on the Eastern Plains looks like it will be in line for that designation. (But that’s a story for another day.)